Last year, CJ LaFragola ’19 had to wait to receive an at-large bid to the 2017 NCAA Championships. This year, that wasn’t a problem, as his fifth place finish in the 184-pound weight class at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships secured him an automatic bid to the tournament.
LaFragola will be joined at the championships with teammates Justin Staudenmayer ’18 and Jon Viruet ’19. Over the next week, the trio will make small adjustments as they prepare to go head to head against the best wrestlers in the NCAA.
For his accomplishments, LaFragola has been named The Herald’s Athlete of the Week.
Herald: Congrats on a strong performance at EIWAs and qualifying for the NCAA championships once again. How does it feel?
LaFragola: It’s an awesome feeling. Last year, I didn’t qualify at the EIWA tournament — I got an at-large bid. So it was a great feeling to punch my ticket at the tournament this year by placing. … It’s going to be the second time around, so I kind of know what to expect. It won’t be a total shock going out there on the big stage.
How does qualifying for NCAAs work?
It depends on your conference. We’re pretty fortunate. The EIWA invites a certain number of wrestlers per weight class, and in my weight class, the top seven finishers at the tournament got sent to nationals. Some other conferences may have fewer spots to give. I got fifth, so I was able to punch my ticket.
What do you feel is your strongest quality in competition?
I might not be the most technical wrestler, but I feel like I’m pretty physical and I just bring hard work. It might not always go your way, you might get taken down early, for instance, but I feel like I keep my head on straight and I keep grinding out the match. I just try to outwork the guy. That’s the number one goal. If you keep attacking and keep working, usually things go well.
What are you hoping to achieve at NCAAs?
Obviously, the ultimate goal is to get up on that podium. I always shoot for the stars, because who knows? People knock people off all the time. I may not have the highest seed going in, but the goal is be on top of that podium. You just have to work hard each match. You don’t have to beat the whole field at the tournament, you just have to beat the guy in front of you. That’s how it starts. The brackets will come out today, so I’ll know who my first guy is.
How are you training in the next week to prepare for NCAAs?
Well, we always say the hay’s in the barn already. That’s what we’ve been saying all year. We just have to stay fresh and tweak a couple of things from conference. We watch a lot of film, just adjusting little things here and there technique-wise. We’re going to probably hit it kind of hard today and the next few days and taper down next week until the tournament day. Just make sure I’m making weight, staying healthy and staying fresh. … Usually, whoever is the most healthy gets a big advantage, because a lot of kids are banged up at this time.
This is the first time Brown Wrestling is sending three wrestlers to NCAAs in 10 years. How does that feel?
It’s really awesome. Last year, I was fortunate enough to make it there, but I was riding solo. So it’s nice to have some of my guys with me. It’s really nice when you have a couple guys out there because, typically, you have your whole team at competitions and you can feed off of each other’s energy. So those two guys get to go before me, because they’re lighter, and if they do well, it helps build my confidence.
What have been your biggest goals for wrestling since coming to Brown?
Team-wise, we always want to win the Ivy’s or place high in the conference, so it’s pretty cool that we placed second this year as a team. And everybody wants to be an All-American, and now I’m beginning to believe in that goal a little more, so it’s pretty cool. There’s an opportunity now. I’m at the national tournament, so there’s a chance I could do it.
What are your plans for life after Brown?
I’m not really sure. I’m studying (Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations) right now, so something in business. Maybe if I’m feeling crazy, I’ll do something with sports. I don’t know if I’m UFC ready, though. But something in business, maybe marketing or design. I really like designing stuff, believe it or not. I’ve been drawing on shoes and whatnot. That’s kind of my thing, just as a thing I do on the side.
LaFragola is slated to take on 14th seed Nick Gravina of Rutgers University in the first round of the tournament on March 15.